What is the real California? Before I lived here I had an image of what the state was all about. A land where Merry Pranksters frolicked, a place where new ideas flourished. A state where you could grow your beard out long under the never ending rays of sun. When you were hungry you could walk to a tree and pick the sweetest orange and when you were thirsty you could head to a party in the hills where the drinks were never ending. California was where someone told me there’s a girl out there with love in her eyes and a flower in her hair.
I romanticized the place a bit. It was Eden where sin was allowed, but the good kinds of sin. California isn’t like that though. For the last decade I’ve lived in the southern and the northern parts of the Golden State and if you want the California you see in those Peter Seller movies from the sixties or that you read about in The Electic Kool-Aid Acid Test, you’ll have to head to Spain. The California of the twenty-first century doesn’t revolve around hedonism. It’s a place people go with dreams and many are quite focused on attaining those dreams. It’s an early to bed early to rise kind of place where trips to the beach are planned out weeks ahead.
But the California of my dreams does exist. When I lived in Redwood City there were two highways you could take to get to San Francisco. A friend succinctly said the 101 with its overpopulated congestion and views of mini-mall sprawl was everything he hated about California, and the 280 with its green mountain vistas and the free flow was everything he loved.
And it’s the California that the bearded dude in the sky left for us that I am the most fond of. When I drive up to Malibu and get lost in the canyons, my heart always skips a beat. The smell of the pine trees in the Sierras. That swimming hole I never got quite to, that mountain peak I had yet to climb, those hot springs…